Safety When Working With Hydrogen
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Hydrogen is a clean and promising energy source, the potential of which is still being discovered. The most promising aspects of its use is to lower our dependency on fossil fuels. However, there are some potential risks which hazardous area workers must be aware of.
Working with hydrogen is not new. There are many industries that have been safely working with hydrogen for decades, there has been a recent push to develop new hydrogen technology particularly for the clean energy markets.
Rapid advancements in the hydrogen industry are being made. With any new and emerging technology there is a risk as engineers pursue new technology in unexplored areas of design. New applications for hydrogen, as well as clean hydrogen supply and infrastructure projects, stand at the riskiest point of the development curve as design teams step into uncharted territory. With this exploration of new hydrogen technologies comes an increased risk of failures in areas including safety, reliability, budgets, performance just to name a few.
Hydrogen is already widely used in some industries, but it has not yet realised its full potential to support clean energy transitions. Ambitious, targeted and near-term action is needed to further overcome barriers and reduce costs for new hydrogen technologies.
Some of the new hydrogen technologies that have a potentially exciting future include:
- Green Hydrogen Production – Green hydrogen is produced using electrolysis powered by renewable energy sources
- Green Ammonia Production – Production of green ammonia using renewable hydrogen
- Biohydrogen Production – Biohydrogen refers to hydrogen produced from biomass or organic waste materials.
- Solid-State Hydrogen Storage – Solid-state hydrogen storage involves storing hydrogen within metal hydrides or other solid materials
- Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carriers (LOHCS) – LOHCs are special organic compounds capable of chemically binding and releasing hydrogen that have potential for storage and transportation applications.
- Improved Catalyst Materials For Hydrogen Fuel Cells
- Advanced Fuel Cell Design – New fuel cell designs, including solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) and direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs)
- Hydrogen-Powered Transport
Why Use Hydrogen
Sceptics point to hydrogen’s safety issues as a potential deal-breaker to its more widespread use. Hydrogen has known safety hazards and we must continue to prioritise hydrogen safety measures, however it also has some properties that should make it safer to handle than conventional fuels like petrol and diesel when handled responsibly.
There are many reasons why hydrogen is seen as the next great energy source and most people who have been following the evolution of hydrogen in industry don’t need to be told. But for those who don’t, here is a summary of some of the benefits.
- Hydrogen is abundant and a great source of energy.
- Hydrogen can be generated in many ways. Hydrogen gas can be produced from methane, gasoline, biomass, coal or water.
Each of these processes requires different amounts of energy input and the various technologies still need refinement.
- When hydrogen burns in oxygen the combustion product is water.
- Hydrogen is an efficient energy source. It has a high energy content for every gram of fuel.
- It is non-toxic. Leaks or spills do not contaminate the environment.
- Hydrogen is lighter than air. If a leak occurs in an open-air situations it will tend to rise up and disperse.
- Hydrogen has a lower radiant heat than other conventional fuels, meaning the air around the flame from hydrogen is not as hot as around other conventional fuels.
- Hydrogen has a relatively high auto ignition temperature compared to other fuels 560°C (Source AS/NZS 60079.20.1).
Challenges of Working with Hydrogen
While green hydrogen offers a solution to a lot of existing problems, we have limited experience using it in these new applications. This is why hydrogen safety research is critical if it is to play a bigger role in our economy.
Hydrogen is freely available, but not as pure hydrogen. It exists mostly in molecules bound to other elements, from which it must be extracted at large energetic cost. Most hydrogen is currently made by processes such as steam reformation of natural gas (methane) that produce large amounts of CO2 as a by-product. Although ‘green’ hydrogen can be made by using electricity from renewable sources to split water molecules, this process is costly compared with more conventional production methods and the technology still requires further refinement and development.
Some of the challenges of working safely with hydrogen include.
- Hydrogen is a colourless gas,
- Hydrogen is an odourless gas at atmospheric conditions.
- Hydrogen is lighter than air and will easily dissipate if not confined.
- The hydrogen molecule is very small and has low viscosity, making it difficult to contain with threaded and flanged joints
- Hydrogen can slowly disperse through the atomic matrix of solid metal (e.g. pipework) and impact the integrity of the material, causing embrittlement.
- When mixed with air, hydrogen has a wide flammability range of 4-77% (Source AS/NZS 60079.20.1)
- Hydrogen has a low ignition energy 0.019mJ (Source Journal of Physics Ayumi Kumamoto et al 2011 J. Phys.: Conf. Ser. 301 012039)
- Hydrogen heats up when it is depressurised, which can be sufficient to ignite vented hydrogen or cause inadvertent leaks
- Hydrogen burns with an almost invisible flame, so can be hard to see without proper detection systems
- Hydrogen produces higher explosion over-pressures that most other flammable gasses.
Training And Competencies For Working With Hydrogen in Australia
There are currently no mandatory competencies prescribed for working with hydrogen. However, competencies have been developed in Australia and are available for companies and training organisations to deliver.
The Australian Gas Industry Reference Committee, with support from Technical Advisory Committees, has developed six new Units of Competency, three new Skill Sets and updated 13 units. The new Units of Competency and Skill Sets have been drafted specifically for hydrogen gas, and the existing units were updated to allow for hydrogen contextualisation as well as other gases. The revised Training Package addresses the skills needs of gas technicians working with hydrogen. Some of the new Australian hydrogen units of competency include:
· UEGNSG901 – Apply safety practices, procedures, and compliance standards for handling hydrogen gas
· UEGNSG902 – Commission, operate and maintain electrolysers
· UEGNSG903 – Fault find and repair hydrogen storage equipment
· UEGNSG904 – Inject hydrogen gas into distribution networks
· UEGNSG905 – Monitor and control hydrogen in gas distribution networks
· UEGNSG906 – Undertake routine hydrogen storage operations
Standards that May Apply to Hydrogen Installations
Project developers and designers face hurdles where regulations and compliance requirements are unclear, unfit for new purposes, or inconsistent across sectors, states and territories and even countries. Sharing knowledge and harmonising standards is key, including for equipment, safety and certifying emissions from different sources. Hydrogen’s complex supply chains mean governments, companies, communities and civil society need to consult regularly.
- AS/NZS 3000:2018 – Electrical installations (known as the Australian/New Zealand Wiring Rules,
- The AS/NZS 60079 series for hazardous areas equipment and installations,
- AS/NZS 3820 – Essential safety requirements of electrical equipment.
- AS 22734 – Hydrogen generators using water electrolysis – Industrial, commercial, and residential applications
- AS 16110.1 – Hydrogen generators using fuel processing technologies
- AS ISO 16110.2 – Hydrogen generators using fuel processing technologies
- SA TS 19883 – Safety of pressure swing adsorption systems for hydrogen separation and purification
- AS ISO 16111 – Transportable gas storage devices – Hydrogen absorbed in reversible metal hydride
- AS ISO 19881 – Gaseous hydrogen – Land vehicle fuel containers
- AS 19880.3 – Gaseous hydrogen – Fuelling stations
- AS 26142 – Hydrogen detection apparatus – Stationary applications
- AS ISO 14687 – Hydrogen fuel quality – Product specification
- AS ISO/TR 15916 – Basic considerations for the safety of hydrogen systems
- AS ISO 19880.8 – Gaseous hydrogen — Fuelling stations, Part 8: Fuel quality control
- AS ISO 19880.5 – Gaseous hydrogen – Fuelling stations, Part 5: Dispenser hoses and hose assemblies
- AS 62282 – Fuel cell technologies
Note: The Future Fuels Cooperative Research Centre is currently developing a hydrogen pipelines Code of Practice. This document will provide guidance on the design, construction and operation of hydrogen pipelines in Australia.
- IEC 62282-4-101: Fuel cell technologies – Part 4-101: Fuel cell power systems for propulsion other than road vehicles and auxiliary power units (APU) – Fuel cell power systems for electrically powered industrial trucks – Safety.
- IEC 62282-4-102: Fuel cell technologies – Part 4-102: Fuel cell power systems for propulsion other than road vehicles and auxiliary power units (APU) – Fuel cell power systems for electrically powered industrial trucks – Performance test methods.
- SAE J2578 Recommended Practice for General Fuel Cell Vehicle Safety.
- SAE J2579 (R) Standard for Fuel Systems in Fuel Cell and Other Hydrogen Vehicles.
- SAE J2600 Compressed Hydrogen Surface Vehicle Fueling Connection Devices
- IEC 63341 series Railway applications – Rolling stock – Fuel cell systems for propulsion
- NFPA 2 – Hydrogen Technologies Code
- EIGA Doc 6/02 – Safety in storage, handling and distribution of liquid hydrogen
- EIGA Doc 211/17 – hydrogen vent systems for customer applications
- SAE J2799, SAE J2600 and the SAE J2601 series
- ASME B31.12 – Hydrogen Piping and Pipelines.Gaseous Hydrogen Installations (published by ANZIGA)
- ISO 19880 Series (Except the standards listed in Table 10)
This list is not exhaustive, but covers many of the applicable standards at the time of posting
“This following information represents and opinion only and is of a general nature, the specifics of each individual situation must be taken into account with reference to the relevant Legislation, Codes of Practice and Australian standards. Professional advice should be sort if there is any doubt. These posts are not monitored and the date of publishing must be taken into account as the information may be out of date”